The wine industry is one of a number of professions where women hold disproportionately fewer seats at the table than men. While every aspect of this business remains a male dominated environment, the culture is slowly changing. In company ownership, vineyard management and winemaking, women are slowly assuming more leadership roles and having great success in the process. In this series of articles, I would like to showcase a few examples of women who are making their mark in the wine world.
Like almost every aspect of our life the evolution within world of wine centers on technology. In the vineyard, advanced agricultural practices ensure that vines are pruned to offer just the precise amount of shade to the grapes; picking is conducted at just the right level of ripeness; automated harvesting and optical sorting promptly deliver the best grapes to the winery. Once there, winemakers have myriad tools at their disposal to ferment, blend and mature wines under near perfect conditions.
Technology provides consumers with a product that is more consistent and far less prone to spoilage than was available to our parents’ generation. That being said, technological innovations extend far beyond the vineyards and winery. The subject of this month’s article has made an impressive use of technology, namely the Internet, and leveraged this communication medium to construct a multi-faceted business with her love of wine, food and music as its focus.
Lorena Woods was born and grew up in the border city of Mexicali, the capital of the state of Baja California in northwest Mexico. As a young adult and undergraduate business major Lorena enjoyed wine, although she rarely gave it much thought. A key turning point occurred after she immigrated to the United States and was taking a certificate program in business contracts at San Diego State University. While walking down a hallway, she glanced into a classroom and saw a group of students evaluating wine as part of an academic program that the university was offering. Lorena was fascinated by the idea that wine was more than just a casual consumable, rather it was something that could be studied and appreciated. Lorena continued her education at SDSU, eventually earning her MBA, and despite working full time in the business development department of a major aerospace corporation she felt the need to go back to school and learn more about wine.
Lorena’s seminal ‘aha’ moment occurred in her first wine class: while learning about the major wine regions, the history and myriad stories about wines of the world is when the wine bug actually bit. “I was so excited I actually had tears in my eyes; it was at that moment that I knew I couldn’t stop learning about wine.” This first course led to her completing a formal certification program from the Wine & Spirits Educational Trust (WSET), although Lorena acknowledges that this is only the initial step in her process of formal wine education. While already active on Instagram, posting photos about life in San Diego, Lorena made a decision to shift her focus, gravitating to her newfound passion about wine. Creating her website and modifying her Instagram account to: Lorenawinediary.com, Lorena began to post photographs, stories and reflections on the interplay of wine, food and music, and how these three mediums can become gratifying, positive elements in peoples’ lives. Lorena’s social media reach was modest, about 4,000 followers on Instagram, but then the pandemic took hold; people spent more time on their computers and personal devices and her number of followers quadrupled in the course of a year. Woods believes that her passion about these subjects boosted engagement as many of her followers could relate to this ‘joie de vive’ revolving around good wine, food and music.
Lorena’s desire is to transcend engagement and encourage a genuine conversation among her followers. Steering clear of the term ‘influencer’, Woods feels that more apt descriptors for her Internet presence are ‘communicator’ and ‘entrepreneur’. The entrepreneurial element of her life was the next and quite logical progression. As her palate evolved, so did her thoughts on business development. The gateway into blending her social media engagement into a viable commercial enterprise was the pandemic, which changed every aspect of people’s lives. Since people could no longer freely travel, Lorena developed the concept of a ‘travel box’, featuring a personally selected bottle from an important wine region, paired with a recipe, non-perishable food ingredients, as well as personally selected music playlist. With the travel box, Woods hoped to bring the experience of a faraway destination to her customers’ kitchen. Thus did Lorena’s business website: flavouraffair.com come into being.
Still working full time and with a shoestring budget, Wood’s built the website herself and performed most of the business operations in her home. Flavour Affair was an initial success and has since evolved, offering a personally curated coffee and wine subscription box to her customers. Lorena relies on customer feedback, listening to what people are enjoying, to determine the future direction of the business. Another, albeit smaller aspect of her commercial venture is sponsored content: Lorena routinely receives proposals from other businesses to engage in cross promotional partnerships, as well as requests to review wines on her sites. While accepting some of these offers, she has developed a strict policy on sponsored content: “If I like (the wine) I share it, if I don’t like it, I won’t share it. For me, my credibility is very important. I don’t do reviews for money as I’m fortunate to have a very good job, rather I just want to tell my audience about a really nice wine.”
Unlike the marketing material that appears on many websites, Lorena’s content evokes a clear sense of authenticity. For Lorena, the crux of her social media presence and online business is about shaping personal experience. “It’s the experience of drinking something incredible, a wine that has a good story, and then (listening to) good music with it, along with the aromas and flavors when you’re cooking; it’s magical.” It is this passion, the love of these three elements that she wants to share with her followers.
When pressed on what’s next, Woods laughed and talked about “pivoting” the business. “I know what the future Lorena looks like and what I want to do, but I learned that it’s about taking small steps. I have to continue to gain credibility; grow the number of people that like what I’m enjoying, what I’m sharing, and then bring all of them with me.” Someday Lorena would like to create an online show that she would host: traveling and dining at fantastic restaurants, but most importantly incorporating a wine element.”
Toward the end of our conversation Lorena made a statement that I thought sums up her interests and desires: “I’m very passionate about cooking while drinking wine at the same time… Boom, for me it’s like amazing; all the while playing a good Nina Simone song or maybe Tony Bennett in the background, I just find it fascinating and can’t help wanting to share this feeling.” You can read and experience Lorena’s musings at Lorenawinediary.com or on Instagram using the same handle. For more information and to order her travel or wine and coffee boxes check out Flavouraffair.com.
Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to assist you with your wine events or answer your wine questions. Contact Tom at email@example.com.